Cold weather, dark nights, chestnuts, panellet cakes and mushrooms: all you need to know about All Saints’ Day festivities in Catalan sayings

The arrival of the month of November marks a turning point in the calendar: the days start getting shorter and the chill sets in. In the past, pastoral and agrarian societies saw this day as the end of a cycle. This is why All Saints’ Day is such a symbolic festivity. This can be seen in collections of sayings that reflect popular knowledge about farm work and the arrival of the cold and darkness, while also referring to many delicacies that are typical at this time of year.

Even though less and less people work in agriculture these days, our region is a peasant farming society that for millenniums has fished, cultivated crops and herded animals. This is why there are so many popular sayings about these activities, enclosing knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation. For example, it is from sayings that we know that for shepherds the month of November is the time to take the flock down from the mountain and stop work: ‘From St John’s to All Saints’ Day the shepherd hard at work’. And when the flocks are at home, it is time for wool spinning: ‘Suspect is he who from All Saints’ to Christmas spins not a yarn’.

In the fields it is the period for ploughing and sowing (’On All Saints’ hurry out with the plough’ and ‘On All Saints’ and no later, pay heed, sow the seeds’). Apart from this, there was little time for much else: ‘On All Saints’, wheat sowed and fruit stored.’ It is a time for being indoors and preparing for the winter, an unproductive stretch for work on the farm. For the hunters, the season also finishes with the cold and darkness and the animals going into hibernation: ‘On All Saints’, hunters, hang up your rifles.’

Another central theme is the fewer hours of sunshine and longer nights. The Celts, who were the first peoples to celebrate All Saints’ Day, divided the year in two periods: lightness and darkness. At the beginning of November, the dark period begins. Until the Winter Solstice, on December 21, the days keep getting shorter and shorter. The Christian church united this period around two celebrations: ‘From All Saints’ to Christmas, the seven darkest weeks of the year’ and ‘The day won’t grow until Jesus is born’.

‘From All Saints’, grab a blanket and hold on tight’ is one of the better-known sayings about this time of year. It even has a fair few variations inviting people to rug up: ‘On All Saints’ coats and gloves’ or ‘On All Saints’ out with the velvet trousers’. This means that, at least in the past, the cold weather had settled in by November: ‘On All Saints’ (1-11) cold are the fields, on St Martin’s (11-11) cold is the path, on St Catherine’s (25/11) cold is kitchen’. There are also many sayings that mark the beginning of Winter between All Saints’ Day and Christmas: ‘From All Saints’ to Christmas, strictly winter’, ‘From All Saints’ to Christmas, the real winter’, ‘From All Saints’ to Christmas, rain or snow, same difference’, etc.

A long time ago, one of the unmistakeable signs that the cold had arrived was the death of the insects, especially flies and mosquitoes: ‘Flies, on All Saints’, dead or devoured, it’s the end of their hours.’ However, nowadays this is not necessarily true as with air-conditioning most buildings have mosquitoes all year long.

All Saints’ Day is also a time for enjoying typical foods. The most famous treats are chestnuts and panellet cakes as the popular song goes: ‘For All Saints’ chestnuts, for Christmas nougat, for Easter cake and chocolates all year round.’ You can also hear the saying ‘On All Saints’, chestnuts and snails’ because when the autumn arrives it also brings many forest delicacies like chestnuts, snails, acorns and, especially, mushrooms: ‘On All Saints’, snowflakes and acorns, dry beds and milk-caps’ and ‘On All Saints’, strawberry trees and acorns, old mastics and mushrooms’.